[Early Review] [31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 17 – Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Luke Wilson

Screenplay: Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

99 mins. Rated R for bloody violence, language throughout, some drug and sexual content.

 

It’s been a crazy ten years, and we are finally arriving, once again, back in Zombieland.

Zombieland: Double Tap picks up some years after the first film, and our favorite zombie killers have arrived at a comfortable life in a luxurious new home. They are not without their struggles, though. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Wichita (Emma Stone, La La Land, The Croods) have gotten past the honeymoon phase of their relationship, and Wichita especially is having a lot of trouble with the idea of settling down with Columbus. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, The Highwaymen, TV’s True Detective) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine, Freak Show) have developed a father-daughter regard for one another, but Little Rock pines to interact with someone new, to begin dating boys, whereas Tallahassee would prefer the solitude of Zombieland life. So when Little Rock runs away with a cute boy, the others must band together to save  her.

I’ll make this one super-simple. If you liked Zombieland, I think you’ll enjoy this one. It isn’t as good as the original film, but it’s very self-reflective on the time that has passed culturally and a lot of the humor comes from the idea that these characters really haven’t changed much in that time. It’s regularly poking fun at itself.

The cast does a fine job again, especially Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee. Harrelson really matures as an actor in this role, and his is the one character that seems to really evolve to something new. All that being said, though, the best parts of this film are the new additions of Zoey Deutch (Set It Up, TV’s The Politician) and Rosario Dawson (Rent, Reign of the Supermen) to the cast. Deutch’s Madison steals every scene as a clueless woo girl that’s supremely ditzy and made me question how she could even survive this long in the apocalypse. Dawson joins up as the tough-as-nails Nevada, who lives in a bar that gets a visit from the gang. Both add a lot of flavor to the film.

The film is a little too convenient at times, and the additions of new zombies (very Left 4 Dead), new rules (not just by Columbus), and new zombie kills, while fun, don’t add a level of newness to the film. If this had come out right after the first film, I think it would not be as noticeable, but given that ten-year gap, I think the similarities stand out. Still better than the Amazon pilot, though.

Zombieland: Double Tap is fun for fans of the original film, and even though it’s just more of the same, I ended up having some good laughs and entertainment. This won’t bring in a lot of new fans, and it may not win over old fans at the same rate that the first film did, but I think it’s a worthy addition to the zombie genre, and I would really like this see this team come back together for a third installment. Just make it sooner.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 10 – Zombieland (2009)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin

Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

88 mins. Rated R.

 

It’s been a bit since I’ve watched Zombieland. I was utterly addicted to it back in 2009, but it’s been a long time. It’s been ten years since it released, so it is time to officially talk about the film that was envisioned as a TV show, then reworked into a film that was adapted into an Amazon pilot before eventually getting a sequel. Did you follow all that?

It’s been some time since the world ended, and zombies have overtaken the landscape. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network, The Art of Self-Defense) and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, The Highwaymen, TV’s True Detective) have formed a shaky truce and teamed up to pursue their goals, and along the way, they befriend two young women who go by Wichita (Emma Stone, La La Land, The Croods) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine, Freak Show). Together, four of the last humans in America make an effort to get to Pacific Playland, a famous theme park that Little Rock has always wanted to see. It’s just another day in Zombieland.

Zombieland fires on all cylinders. Every element of this film works exactly as is intended. The cast is absolutely incredible. There’s a reason all four leads have been nominated for Academy Awards (Stone going as far as to win as well). Woody Harrelson finds that perfect balance of dickery and sweetness. Jesse Eisenberg could very easily become boring, but he tows the line just right. Emma Stone displays a subtlety in her distrust of the others and her love for Little Rock with such ease. Even Abigail Breslin, who has to shoulder the responsibility of being a kid growing up in a zombie wasteland. The secondary cast is terrific in what they need to accomplish.

The screenplay is smartly-written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Deadpool, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) and features solid world-building, very funny dialogue, and an elegant mix of horror in suspense in all the right doses. Their collaboration with Ruben Fleischer (Venom, Gangster Squad) creates a unique, authentic, and fun reinvention of the living dead mythos.

If there’s a flaw to Zombieland, it’s maybe that the film hasn’t aged perfectly, and it’s the realization that we should’ve gotten a sequel sooner. This is a tightly-constructed narrative, coming in under 90 minutes but bursting with flavor. If you missed Zombieland back in 2009, I highly recommend you give it a go, and if it’s been some time since you last watched, go back and revisit it. It’s a remarkable little horror/comedy.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

The Art of Self-Defense (2019)

Director: Riley Stearns

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, Imogen Poots

Screenplay: Riley Stearns

104 mins. Rated R for violence, sexual content, graphic nudity and language.

 

I knew absolutely nothing about The Art of Self-Defense before walking into the theater, and all I can say is this was not the film I expected in all the best ways.

Casey (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) is not a strong person. He is uncomfortable in social situations, and he is unable to defend himself when attacked one night on the street. He joins a local dojo where he is trained by an odd and influential sensei (Alessandro Nivola, Face/Off, Disobedience). As Casey’s confidence rises, he begins to see problems with the way Sensei operates, and it causes him to question his leader.

It becomes very clear early on in The Art of Self-Defense that the world these characters inhabit is a strange and surrealist version of our own. Casey’s answering machine is sarcastic about the amount of phone calls he receives. There’s also a strange quality about the dojo. I’m still not sure if the Sensei’s teachings are lies in this world or if that’s part of the surrealist world that writer/director Riley Stearns (Faults, The Cub) has constructed.

Eisenberg does fine as Casey, but part of the problem is that he is essentially playing versions of previous characters I’ve seen from him. He’s good in the movie, but there’s no range or excitement about his role because I’ve kind of seen it before. Again, not bad in the bed, but he’s overshadowed.

The reason I’m not talking about Eisenberg is because of Alessandro Nivola, who plays the peculiar Sensei. Nivola steals every scene he’s in with a special quality of strange which makes him equally comedic and stone cold disturbing. He’s the character I’ll be talking about most months from now.

The biggest problem this movie has is that Stearns dawdles a bit near the end of the film and doesn’t focus on what’s important as the film nears a close. There are some revelations about Casey, the Sensei, and the dojo that feel more important than they end up being. The ending makes up for this because it is exactly what I wanted without me knowing I wanted it. It’s a bonkers ending that is perfect for a film like this.

The Art of Self-Defense is not a realistic depiction of karate, nor is it much of a realistic depiction of anything, and for that, it works quite well. Writer/director Riley Stearns has crafted a unique experience that’s weird and wild and different from a lot of other recent films, and while I would have liked more exploration into the plot threads at the end of the film, and I would have wanted something more surprising from the film’s lead, this is still a very worthwhile viewing experience.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 24 – The Fly II (1989)

Director: Chris Walas

Cast: Eric Stoltz, Daphne Zuniga, Lee Richardson, Frank Turner, John Getz, Harley Cross

Screenplay: Mick Garris, Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat, Frank Darabont

105 mins. Rated R.

 

As some of you are aware, David Cronenberg’s The Fly is one of my all-time favorite horror films. The sequel, The Fly II, has a steep ladder to climb, an impossible feat. But the question is whether or not The Fly II can be capable enough to stand on its own, and I think that, as a sequel, it actual is passable enough.

When Veronica Quaife dies giving birth to her child with Seth Brundle, the child, a victim of his father’s experiment, is taken in by Anton Bartok (Lee Richardson, Network, Prizzi’s Honor) and his company. The boy grows at an accelerated rated. and celebrating his fifth birthday, Martin Brundle (Eric Stoltz, Pulp Fiction, Class Rank) is a fully-grown man with extreme intelligence and a need to learn. Martin searches for a cure to his mutation. At the same time, Bartok is searching for the missing piece in Seth Brundle’s telepod experiment. When Martin discovers that Bartok is not interested in helping him, he must venture for his answers with only the help of fellow Bartok employee Beth Logan (Daphne Zuniga, Spaceballs, Those Left Behind).

The Fly II is nowhere near as strong a film as its predecessor. First-time director Chris Walas (The Vagrant), who worked on the creature effects for the original film, stepped behind the camera this time around. For a first film, The Fly II could have been so much worse. The faults here come with pacing, performance, and the ending.

The Fly II has some real pacing issues. It feels like a three-hour movie at times. I feel like the lack of a throughline direction from Walas is a big reason why this sequel suffers. It feels very unfocused at times, meandering about in search of meaning.

The performances from Stoltz and Zuniga are very underwhelming. Stoltz seems childlike, as he is still, but he is just uninteresting. Zuniga, though, is just dull. Richardson’s Bartok isn’t an interesting villain, but he is evil enough to suffice. I just missed the characters from the first. I feel like having more of a presence of Seth and Ronnie, or hell, even Stathis (John Getz, The Social Network, Trumbo), who appears in the sequel in a cameo.

The ending is pretty amazing, except that it half-sucks. There’s an ending for our main characters that is extremely underwhelming, Then, there’s a super-dark stinger before the credits that I loved. The entire third act goes insane, a larger-scale version of the original, and I liked where it was heading, but it just didn’t go far enough.

But there are some really cool moments of the film. The Fly II is at its best when it forges a new path rather than retreading its far superior parent. Walas kills it again with the incredible makeup effects. The attempts made at adding to the mythology are mostly successful, and I have to say, I did enjoy most of the film.

The Fly II is an inferior sequel, but it gets about as good as it was ever going to get after losing Cronenberg. It’s a fun 1980s camp horror sequel that does try to reach the stars even if it misses often enough.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of David Cronenberg’s The Fly, click here.

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois

Screenplay: James Ivory

132 mins. Rated R for sexual content, nudity and some language.

 

Call Me By Your Name has been one of the most-talked about films of the year as far as festival favorites go. I only very recently was lucky enough to catch a screening of the film. So does this awards-season heavy-hitter stack up?

Elio (Timothee Chalamet, Interstellar, Lady Bird) is a 17-year-old living in Italy. He is introduced to his father’s new assistant from America, Oliver (Armie Hammer, The Social Network, Cars 3). At first, Elio finds Oliver to be rather strange and a little off-putting, but as the two form a closer bond, Elio and Oliver’s friendship grows into a passionate love affair, one that both men are not expecting and one they must keep secret.

I found myself liking a lot of aspects of Call Me by Your Name, the most impressive being the cinematography from Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. This is a gorgeously shot film, and relies very heavily on the excellent visual aesthetic of the Italian locations where the film was shot.

The performances were strong, particularly the two leads, but I feel as though not enough love has been given to Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, The Shape of Water) for his subtle and nuanced performance as Elio’s father. There is a scene, and you will know which one I mean when you see it, where Stuhlbarg bares his soul on the camera and it is one of the most beautiful monologues I’ve ever seen.

The issues that ended up taking me out of the film happened around Elio’s journey in the film. I found myself not connecting and following along with his decisions as he progressed through the story. I would have liked to have seen the internal conflict he is faced with, but I didn’t connect with him as a character until the latter half of the film. I’ve been called crazy for this, but it’s just how I felt as a viewer.

Call Me by Your Name is a beautiful love story filled with terrific performances all around. The faults with the film, to me, lie with the characterization of Elio and a narrative that needs tightening. Overall, I still rather enjoyed the film, but I don’t personally see it as a Best Picture kind of experience.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

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Director: Travis Knight

Cast: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Matthew McConaughey

Screenplay: Marc Haimes, Chris Butler

Runtime: NA. Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril.

 

Well, I just got out of an advance screening for the upcoming Laika film Kubo and the Two Strings. Now Kubo has been hotly anticipated as a unique and original film for the stop-motion crew at Laika and the trailers have only furthered the excitement. So how does it stack up and should you see it on August 19th?

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Kubo (Art Parkinson, TV’s Game of Thrones, Dracula Untold) is a young boy who lives on an island with his mother. Their lives are secluded and peaceful, until the vengeful Moon King (Ralph Fiennes, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Hail Caesar!), who stole Kubo’s eye as a baby, finds him once again. Kubo’s mother sends him away to find three pieces of mystical armor to defeat the Moon King and his daughters, The Sisters (both played by Rooney Mara, The Social Network, Pan). Along Kubo’s journey, he comes across companions like Monkey (Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Huntsman: Winter’s War) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar, Free State of Jones) who aid him in the perilous and difficult path that lies before him. But can he defeat the Moon King, the evil force who killed his father?

Kubo and the Two Strings is the fourth film from Laika, and it may just be the best work yet. This is a gorgeously animated and stunningly told story steeped in classic Japanese folklore. Each of the environments actually breathe on their own, and function as a beautifully laid out tapestry of incredible visuals.

Kubo’s story directly takes from the Hero’s Journey, and he is given an interesting and action-packed set of tests to stop him from gaining the armor in time. Thankfully, it is the chemistry between Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle that make this movie a must-see. There is heart and soul, enough to compete with the lovely imagery.

The voice work is solid from Parkinson, and he is aided nicely by Theron and McConaughey. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot to turn one away from the film.

Now, Kubo can be seen as an animated film more so than a family or kid’s movie. There are some frightening images and sequences, but I’m not trying to tell you that younger children should avoid it.

My faults with the film? Really only one. There are a few story beats near the end of the film that I didn’t see the point in. But that didn’t take the enjoyment out of the experience.

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You need to see Kubo and the Two Strings. It is breathtaking in its sights, but also wonderful in its sounds. Make sure to stay through the entire end credits. These animators put in hard work, and you get a chance to see how much. There’s also an amazing rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Regina Spektor. When Kubo hits your theater, take the whole family on an adventure that is original and spectacular, aided by a striking attack on the senses. Seriously, you should be standing in line for it right now.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

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Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

Screenplay: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer

151 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality.

 

So, after countless years of waiting for DC to officially make a move at creating a cinematic universe, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has arrived. Now comes the real question: Can DC create a universe from some of the most popular characters in comic book history? And what exactly is this film?

Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, Argo, Gone Girl) has been obsessed with one thing over the past eighteen months: Superman (Henry Cavill, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Cold Light of Day). After witnessing the damage done to the city of Metropolis due to Superman’s fight with General Zod, and seeing one of his own buildings filled with his employees come down in the battle, Bruce does not believe that Superman should be allowed to do as he pleases, and he’s not alone. Senator Finch (Holly Hunter, The Incredibles, Manglehorn) and billionaire playboy Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network, American Ultra) completely agree. Bruce’s caretaker Alfred (Jeremy Irons, The Lion King, Race) becomes increasingly more concerned about Wayne’s mental state as the obsession grows. Meanwhile, Clark Kent’s life is moving in the right direction: He is in love with Lois Lane (Amy Adams, American Hustle, Big Eyes), he has a great job at the Daily Planet, but there is a problem. He too has become worried about a masked vigilante frequently called The Bat, but Clark finds that the world seems to be more concerned with Superman’s doings than this Bat character. When Lex Luthor sees an opening, he begins planting the seeds to bring these two heroic titans to blows, and hopefully take them both down at once.

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Well, we have a lot to discuss, so let’s start at the beginning. The title of the film is very strange. The decision to excise the “vs” in favor of a “v” implies a court case, which confuses me as I don’t understand why you want a superhero movie to be a court case, but I’ve already started to digress.

This movie’s plot seems to want to go everywhere but doesn’t actually get anywhere. It seems like two screenplays jammed together: one is a Batman v Superman movie, the other a Dawn of Justice movie. The problem here is that the glue used to stick these movies together is weak and flimsy. The Batman stuff is great, particularly their dealing with the origin, which is fleshed over the opening credits like how The Incredible Hulk treated theirs. Since this is the second Batman of this decade and the third iteration of an origin, I’m glad they decided to go this route, citing that Batman Begins did it the best it could ever be done. And what a Batman they picked! Ben Affleck owned this role. I learned from my initial criticism of Heath Ledger’s casting for The Dark Knight when Ben Affleck was selected to don the cowl for the nest Batman. I pulled back and thought, let’s just wait and see. And I was right, folks! Affleck’s performance was real and yet unlike anything we’ve seen from the Caped Crusader.

How’s the Superman stuff? Eh, not all that great. Henry Cavill doesn’t have the acting chops to do much, and his character is wasted on a convoluted plotline anda misunderstanding of the Man of Steel. I read countless times that this isn’t so much of a Man of Steel sequel but rather a backdoor pilot for the Justice League, which isn’t true. This is in fact a direct sequel as it fits every plot point of the previous film into this one, even the finished plot threads, and the movie bloats because of it.

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Now onto the Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, Fast & Furious 6, Criminal) of it all. Wonder Woman is great. With only 16 lines of dialogue, Gal Gadot does her best to leave a presence here, and she does. It’s a great introduction to this character and truly excited me for the next installment featuring her.

Among the film’s principal faults lie Jesse Eisenberg, who plays a very new and very different incarnation of Lex Luthor. He did one incredible feat in this film. He made me hate Lex Luthor, but not in a way that works. Eisenberg skewers every scene is in by playing some goofy and unhinged extremes. For a character who was apparently written with such realism, none of that comes to play here. I was arguing with someone who claimed to understand (but not like) Eisenberg’s portrayal of the greatest criminal mastermind of our time. He told me that I didn’t like the performance because I wanted Gene Hackman back. I answered back that I didn’t like the performance because it was a poor performance. There were multiple moments in the film that feature Luthor in public essentially having a mental break. I was sitting in the theater and wanted to see someone just look at him and think that this guy is absolutely insane. The worst of it was all this press that came out later and announced that Bryan Cranston had been looked at, as had Tom Hanks (based on his incredible work on the underrated Cloud Atlas), and yet Eisenberg had been selected in order to reinvent the character. WHAT?!?

Let’s talk some on the Dawn of Justice portion of the film, which does get us into some spoilery territory, so be warned. Batman v Superman is seen as almost a Justice League origin story in a lot of ways. It sets up Batman, Wonder Woman, and even introduces us to several other members of the team. A major problem here is that the audience is spoon-fed the Justice League. The references and setups are literally beaten over the heads of viewers. There are better ways about this. The introduction of the Justice League was terrible sans The Flash, who got a quick moment of reveal that actually worked for me. As for Aquaman and Cyborg…yuck. Cyborg even wasted the origin story on a poor expository flitter of a moment with no style whatsoever. Absolutely stupid. Now, the film does have some subtlety here when they dance around some of the dark past of Bruce Wayne, but it doesn’t do this enough. You could even have thrown some of this into a post-credits scene to get it out of the main narrative.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is, to me, a more enjoyable experience than Man of Steel, but as far as a cohesive story, it is not. This is a collection of some really cool moments squeezed into a movie that’s bursting at the seams. Ben Affleck gets great redemption from his previous Daredevil failure (in a world where Ryan Reynolds and Chris Evans are also getting second chances) and is easily the best part of this film (Scott Adkins blames the Oscars for why Ben Affleck was cast, but doesn’t understand that Scott Adkins was not cast because he was Scott Adkins). I’m excited to see where this franchise is going (Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman) but I’m nervous that the DCEU is not getting off to a great start and can’t really afford to fumble anymore. Overall, the film is divisive and has some great elements, but there is just too much that is found guilty in this court case.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, click here.

The Birth of a Nation Teaser Trailer Drops, Can You Hear the Oscar Bells?

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Wow, I just saw the teaser trailer for The Birth of a Nation, from director Nate Parker. The film is the story of Nat Turner, who led a liberation movement in Virginia. I always found stories like this to be inspirational and interesting, as long as they are made well, and I’ve been hearing tons of praise coming out of the festival circuits, particularly from Sundance.

The trailer gives us the tone and scope of the film without dropping too much, and it definitely got me excited for the film, which releases later this year. We also get a look at Armie Hammer (The Social Network, The Lone Ranger) and Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen, A Nightmare on Elm Street), who both only elevate the film for me. I cannot wait.

So what did you think? Will you be seeing The Birth of a Nation when it releases? Let me know.

The Birth of a Nation releases October 7th.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 28 – The Collection (2012)

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Director: Marcus Dunstan

Cast: Josh Stewart, Emma Fitzpatrick, Christopher McDonald, Randall Archer, Lee Tergesen

Screenplay: Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan

82 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence, grisly images, language and brief nudity.

 

The 2009 film The Collector was written as a prequel to Saw, but when the producers vetoed that option, it became The Collector. While The Collector had its moments, it had just as many faults. Director Marcus Dunstan seems to have learned from his mistakes for the 2012 sequel The Collection, a highly stylized game of cat and mouse which sees Arkin (Josh Stewart, Interstellar, Transcendence) escaping from the clutches of The Collector (Randall Archer). Immediately after, Arkin is enlisted by Lucello (Lee Tergesen, Monster, Red Tails) and his boss Mr. Peters (Christopher McDonald, Requiem for a Dream, About Last Night) to find Peters’ daughter Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick, The Social Network, Before We Go), the Collector’s newest claim. When they get to the slasher’s lair, they discover that the Collector has a few more tricks in store for them.

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I’m not going to tell you that The Collection is a perfect horror film. It has faults, but it takes a major step up from its predecessor. Arkin has become a much more likable lead, having evolved from his criminal ways. The addition of equally likable Elena and Lucello, we have several characters that we care about. We want to see them live. When they fall into danger, I genuinely wanted them to survive.

I enjoyed the Collector’s background and the extensive look at how he operates as a serial killer, and though I agree that his lair and the traps he sets seem almost like he has second sight, but if you can suspend your disbelief enough, you can find fun here.

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The Collection won’t be for everyone. The film has a lot of detractors, but fans of the original will find a lot to like. Its creative team has evolved in the three years between the films, and it looks good for future endeavors.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Marcus Dunstan’s The Collector, click here.

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